The Lady is a Vamp May 2011

Dear Rowley,

Sometimes you’ve got to love the British press. They are having an absolute ball ‘dropping earrings’ about the mystery ladies and gentlemen who have blocked the newspapers by law from naming profile adulterers. I love that phrase ‘dropping an earring’. It came from my friend Anthony Sludds – coal miner turned cocktail waitress – who, when we worked in a very salubrious Soho watering hole called The Yard back in the Neolithic Age, used to vamp ‘oh, my earring’ every time someone shattered a pint glass behind the bar.

Very few people can make me laugh like a drain. You were always one of them. Another is Suzi Perry, my compadre at Royal Ascot for the BBC fashion coverage. Suzi and I spent the best part of the week on appointments in search of five impeccable Ascot outfits and if you didn’t laugh you’d cry. As Mrs T said, she imagined we did call-ins from all the major houses and had an afternoon in a hotel suite with a bottle of fizz not dissimilar to that scene in Evita when Madonna sings Rainbow High while being swathed in furs, diamonds and Dior. If only…

Dressing Suzi has taught me an awful lot over the years about the fashion industry. Not only do we visit the designers and milliners’ ateliers, we also do the dash up and down Bond, Bruton and Mount Street trying on the new season in all the fashion flagships. What immediately struck me was how little stock there was on or off the rails and how outrageously the sizes veered from what it said on the ticket. Suzi is a perfect, curvaceous size 10 who would give Pippa Middleton a run for her money in the Rear of the Year competition for 2011. I kid you not, in most stores the size 10 was a size zero. Brilliant psychology this, no?

How many times did we hear the directrice telling us that ‘sizes are quite small this season’. Reminds me of the Ab Fab beauty journalist pitching her ideas to Kathy Burke’s editor Magda: ‘skin is in’, ‘lips are the new lashes’ and ‘beware blusher…you’ve been caught out like this before!’ A notable exception was the drop dead gorgeous Svetlana in Michael Kors who knows her stuff, acts with class not condescension and greeted us like Anastasia fleeing the Bolsheviks into the arms of the white army. Suzi chose a rather racy tangerine body con dress that fitted her like cock on tail. Move over Marilyn.

We had an absolute hoot with the lovely Rafael at Vivienne Westwood with me playing Mammie to Suzi’s Miss Scarlet as we tried to buckle-up one of Westwood’s corset dresses. Rather reminded me of last year’s shenanigans when Suzi couldn’t negotiate a Hardy Amies vintage blue silk wrap dress. Sherwood went in to the rescue and we were discovered in the Archive Room with my hands plunged down Suzi’s cleavage trying to tie a bow by a Palace security guard casing the joint for an upcoming royal visit. The poor chap’s eyes were out on stalks.

I think the most amusing Ascot moment for me and Suzi in the last years was a live spot when we came off VT about Vivienne Westwood in which I had mentioned the Dame going knickerless to Buckingham Palace to collect her OBE and also touched on Westwood’s early S&M bondage days when she ran Sex on the Kings Road. ‘Of course knickers are a must in the Royal Enclosure’, says I to which Suzi replied, ‘… and S&M is appropriate but only if you keep your shoulders covered’. Priceless.

Back to Bond Street. Who impressed? Chanel is truly beautifully made and Lagerfeld has a genius for reinventing the classic Chanel tweed skirt suit every season. We loved a baby blue tweed trimmed with feathers but, alas, the model had already been bought for Ascot. Who didn’t? Surprisingly, there was a dearth of those wickedly Gothic skirt suits that McQueen always rocked in Sarah Burton’s collection. In fact, I don’t think there was a single piece that could have made the leap from catwalk to Royal Enclosure. Donna Karan was too drapey, Stella too out there and Matthew too ‘by the pool with Jade and Sienna’.

The clear winner was Ralph Lauren. The ladies in the Ralph press office are universally fragrant and lovely. More to the point, they don’t think Royal Ascot is a new breed of toy poodle or a nightclub on the Fulham Road. Other designer press people will hold up a bustier dress slit to the thigh and say with mournful puppy dog eyes ‘a little too much?’ Oh please, my nerves. At Ralph, the first dress on the rail was an ivory chiffon 40s style tea gown with pretty daffodil ruffle cap sleeves and a fluted, fluid skirt. Twinned with navy and cream court shoes, this dress was a pure thoroughbred.

Our last stop was at William Vintage in Marylebone. Owner William Banks-Blaney had just sent out 300 pieces for a fashion shoot so we weren’t anticipating miracles. But a miracle we found in a peacock blue 50s number. Suzi practically kissed William when he said he’d send a seamstress down to her hotel to take the dress in…a far cry from other fashion houses who looked as though we’d accused them of smuggling microfilm to the Russians when we asked whether a dress that would barely fit Barbie was really a size 10. We have a trying-on session at Suzi’s hotel next Tuesday. I must admit I do feel rather red blooded when I ask the concierge for Suzi Perry’s room and he gives me a ‘lucky boy’ look when he says ‘go right up Sir’.